“Cuban Five” Hailed as Heroes in Caracas 1

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the humanitarian search-and-rescue group,  "Brothers to the Rescue" members

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the search-and-rescue group, “Brothers to the Rescue”

By Jim Wyss, jwyss@MiamiHerald.com

The five Cuban spies recently released from U.S. custody spent a second day in Venezuela being hailed as heroes and bestowed with honors.

On Tuesday, President Nicolás Maduro honored the men at the National Pantheon, where South American liberator Simon Bolivar is interred, saying that they helped stop “dozens” of U.S. attacks on Cuba, including the bombing of hotels and the killing of foreign tourists.

Maduro also blamed the media for describing the men as “spies,” saying news agencies, including Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and EFE were “machines of media manipulation.”

“They declare war when there needs to be war and they pardon and turn people into angels when they need to be pardoned and turned into angels, even if that person is the world’s biggest murderer,” he said.

The five men were convicted in 2001 of infiltrating South Florida military installations and spying on the exile community. They were also linked to the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four exile pilots over the Florida Straits.

The last imprisoned members of the spy ring were released in December as Washington and Havana began rapprochement talks. Their release coincided with Cuba’s freeing of USAID contractor Alan Gross. The men are expected to be in Venezuela — Cuba’s closest ally — through Saturday.

Advertisements

Brothers to the Rescue Remembered: A Salute to the Pilots Shot Down on This Day by Cuba 1

By Miraisy Rodriguez

I was 5 years old and strapped to a tall pole across from my 3-year-old sister. The pole, a mast for a sail that was never very useful, was in the center of a raft being thrown about the Florida Straits. I don’t remember the nights, but I’m told they were so dark my mother, sitting between us, could not see us, but only feel us. I don’t remember being wet or cold, but my parents tell me the waves rolling over us were about 20 feet high. I don’t remember the sun, but after four days at sea, my skin was two shades darker than what most women would pay for at a tanning salon.

If there were a soundtrack to my life, Willy Chirino’s Nuestro Día (Our Day) would be one of the first songs on the album. The first two verses always bring tears to my eyes and remind me of the danger my family was in when Brothers to the Rescue saved our lives. Brothers to the Rescue is the organization whose pilots kept a watchful, protective eye for rafters making the perilous journey from Cuba to freedom. It was 17 years ago today that four of them were ambushed in the sky and killed by Cuban MiGs.

Tired of living in a country where he was persecuted for uttering disapproval of the government’s hateful policies and tactics, my father, then 25 years old, decided it was time to leave. My mother refused to stay behind with two young girls and no future. So after hiding in a military neighborhood for most of the summer of 1992 — and six days after Hurricane Andrew had destroyed Homestead — my family left Cuba. We left just before dawn through the middle of Varadero, a popular, and hence heavily patrolled, beach. We left on a raft engineered and built by my father with the help of a few other men who left with us.

There were nine of us — although it nearly became 10. My parents tell me that a drunk who was walking the beach helped push the raft away from the shore, then begged to come with us. But our food and water supplies were carefully rationed for nine. Our vessel, if you could call it that, was full. I remember only snippets of that night. Mostly, I recall darkness, tall grass, running on the sand, and my little sister crying while my mother tried desperately to keep her quiet. Though it was four days and two more nights before we were spotted by Brothers to the Rescue, the next thing I remember is eating delicious pastelitos. A creative humanitarian in that plane fashioned a parachute, out of a cardboard box filled with Cuban pastries from Miami, and tied it to an actual message in a bottle. The sweet parachute fell to the water and bobbed around just close enough for someone in our party to reach.
My mother recalls it was the first food in almost a week that my sister and I were able to keep down. The “bottle,” a clear plastic jar with a white sticker and bold red letters that read: “Hermanos Al Rescate” — Brothers to the Rescue — held a message that had my sister and I standing and waving excitedly up at the sky: “Don’t despair. God is with you and the U.S. Coast Guard is on its way from Key West.” I am now 26, and that plastic jar has had a place of honor in our family’s kitchen for over 20 years. Today it is filled with coffee beans my aunt sent from Cuba when she heard we were alive and safe.

Since Feb. 24, 1996, these memories are tinged by sadness. That is the day I heard that two Brothers to the Rescue planes had been shot out of the sky by Cuban military planes. As a 9-year-old child, I don’t think I understood what was going on. All I knew then of Brothers to the Rescue was that we had one of their bottles in our kitchen, and that they had sent us delicious pastries when we couldn’t keep down the tinned spam my mother had tried feeding us on that raft.

Today I am a young Cuban-American about to graduate from law school. When I see the plastic jar, I think of those men who died in the shootdown and wonder if they could have been the same pilots involved in my own family’s rescue. I may not have known them personally, but they have my eternal respect: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales.

Retired Spy in “Brothers to the Rescue” Case Lives in Obscurity in Havana 1

Juan Pablo Roque, the spy who returned to Cuba a day before the shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue civilian planes, says he’s sorry four people were killed. But he maintains Cuba had a right to shoot the aircraft out of the sky.

By Tracey Eaton, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

HAVANA — Lt. Col. Juan Pablo Roque wore his Rolex with pride — the unique pride of a Cuban double agent who once worked for the FBI. But now the man who was once one of Cuba’s most illustrious spies is out of cash. And he wants to sell his prized watch and his house in Havana. “I need the money,” Roque said in his most extensive interview in more than 15 years. His story illustrates the uncertain life that awaits Cuban spies whose covers are blown. But it’s also a reminder of the extent and success of Cuban spying even now, 21 years after the Cold War’s end.

Roque, a former fighter pilot with Hollywood good looks, staged his defection from Cuba in 1992, swimming to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and declaring opposition to Fidel Castro. He became a pilot for Brothers to the Rescue, a group dedicated to searching for rafters in the Florida Straits. But then he stunned everyone in 1996, slipping back into Cuba the day before Cuban MiGs shot down two civilian aircraft flown by members of the exile group.

Now 57 and living with his girlfriend in a cramped Havana apartment, Roque said he’s sorry four people were killed in the Feb. 24, 1996, incident. “If I could travel in a time machine,” he said, “I’d get those boys off the planes that were shot down.” The four dead included Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña, Pablo Morales and Armando Alejandre Jr. Alejandre’s sister, Maggie Khuly, said justice was never done. “Speaking for the families, my family in particular, we’re looking forward to the day when Roque faces U.S. courts on his outstanding indictment,” said Khuly, a Miami architect.

Spy for spy

The shoot-down drove U.S.-Cuba relations to a new low and prompted then-President Bill Clinton to sign the Helms-Burton Act, which ramped up economic sanctions against Cuba.

Since then, U.S.-Cuba relations remain as chilly as ever. President Barack Obama loosened some travel restrictions to Cuba after taking office, but has done little else to ease the tension. In fact, U.S. officials have worked steadily to undermine the socialist government, spending more than $200 million on Cuba democracy programs since 1996.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/02/3031432/retired-spy-in-brothers-to-the.html#storylink=cpy